2016 Presidential Faith: The Republicans

As presidential contenders throw their hats into the ring, we take a closer look at their convictions

jim-gilmoreJim Gilmore: Southern Politician with Many Religious Opinions

This piece was co-written by Jocelyn Macurdy Keatts, an associate at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. She is studying psychology at The Catholic University of America and lives in Washington, D.C.

Born in Virginia to a Methodist family with a mom who served as secretary at his home church, Jim Gilmore is a devout member of his faith community. However, infamous for his remarks following President Obama’s statements at the National Prayer Breakfast that Christianity had been used to justify terrible events like the crusades, he is a reactionary sort of politician.

Gilmore is known to have a close relationship with controversial Liberty University, a college where women can’t wear shorts and the founder once incited worldwide riots for calling the Prophet Muhammad a “terrorist.” This is the kind of religious company that Gilmore has kept throughout his career.

In line with his conservative values, Gilmore is the president and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, popular for its desire to return America to Judeo-Christian values and known to claim multiculturalism is weakening America’s exceptionalism. Jim Gilmore may not overtly state his religious exclusivism, but his belief in Christian exceptionalism is clear in the organizations he has historically supported.

john-kasichKasich’s Faith Formed his “Compassionate Conservatism”

This piece was co-written by Jennifer Labbadia, a Jesuit Volunteer who works at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

July 21, Ohio Governor John Kasich became the 16th Republican candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the race to the White House in 2016. A political moderate, Kasich’s politics remind people of the George W. Bush-era of “compassionate conservatism.” Perhaps this is fueled by Kasich’s complicated, evolving faith.

Kasich grew up in a working-class Catholic family outside of Pittsburgh. His family left the Catholic Church for a more conservative Episcopal denomination while he was in college at Ohio State. Kasich’s faith subsequently faded. But after his parents’ 1987 death in a tragic car accident, Kasich found renewed strength from a Bible study group. Today, Kasich attends an Anglican church.

Kasich isn’t afraid to mix faith and politics. In 2013, against the wishes of his party, Kasich accepted the Medicaid expansion money offered to states under Obamacare. Defending the decision, Kasich revealed his fondness for Jesus’ famous monologue in the Gospel of Matthew about what is necessary for salvation: “The most important thing for this legislature to think about: Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of a mother and a father of an adult child that is struggling … Understand that poverty is real … Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”

(CNS photo/Darren Hauck, Reuters)
(CNS photo/Darren Hauck, Reuters)

Scott Walker: Son of a Baptist Preacher

This piece was co-written by Jennifer Labbadia, a Jesuit Volunteer who works at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Scott Walker began speaking from the pulpit at 2 years old and was preaching the occasional sermon in his teens. Although he currently attends a nondenominational evangelical church in his hometown, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, the Baptist tradition was a strong part of Walker’s upbringing, as he was heavily involved in the churches where his father preached in Colorado, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

This past April, Walker told “The New York Times,” “My relationship with God drives every major decision in my life. Our walk of faith helps us prepare for those decisions and provides us comfort as we seek to do God’s will.” His lifelong involvement in church is turning out to be a powerful tool as he focuses on states dominated by the GOP’s evangelical base.

But not all evangelicals are sure about Walker and specifically where he stands on issues they really care about, mainly abortion and gay marriage. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, claims Walker has intentionally avoided discussing social issues and suggests that Walker’s appeals to the religious right are not genuine.

In a February appearance at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, Walker said, “We must stand up for marriage and the family. I believe in the family. And I believe in life.” Still, many are uncertain of his sincerity after a television ad in October described Walker as pro-life but called the decision over whether or not to terminate a pregnancy “agonizing.” The ad also emphasized legislation Walker approved that allowed the final decision to be left “to a woman and her doctor.” Evangelical leaders also noted comments he made to “The Hill” in late 2013 when he said that Republicans shouldn’t get distracted by social issues. He emphasized, “I don’t talk about [gay marriage] at all. I don’t talk about anything but fiscal and economic issues in the state.”

At first glance, Walker’s long history of religious devotion may make him a front-runner to win over the GOP’s evangelical base, but a closer look reveals that Walker still has a lot to prove to the religious right if he hopes they will carry him across the finish line.

(CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)
(CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

Bobby Jindal: Catholic Convert, Values-Driven

This piece was co-written by Jennifer Labbadia, a Jesuit Volunteer who works at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal is a steadfast evangelical and supporter of the religious right, but he hasn’t always been this way. Born and named Piyush Jindal just a few months after his parents arrived in Louisiana from India, he was raised in a “strong Hindu culture.”

Jindal explains his conversion to Catholicism as a “a gradual and painful one.” When Jindal began reading the Bible in an effort to disprove the Catholic faith, he instead saw himself in many of the parables. It wasn’t until he saw a film depicting Jesus’ crucifixion that his interest turned from intellectual to spiritual.

Jindal’s conversion to Catholicism was greatly influenced by evangelical Catholicism. In an article in “America Magazine,” Jindal explains how he was touched by the “love and simplicity of a Christian girl who dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court Justice so she could stop her country from ‘killing unborn babies.’”

His other conservative Christian values are in line with his strong pro-life stance. At Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition Fundraiser in 2014, Jindal told the crowd that the most important factor in the nation’s success is its Judeo-Christian values. He explained, “As America’s culture goes, so goes America. Capitalism and free enterprise will fail in a country where people don’t respect the rule of law, don’t care for each other, don’t share a common view of the dignity of all mankind as God’s creation.”

Jindal is very clear that his religious values are an important part of who he is as a person. In the past, he explained that Christianity is the “one, objectively true faith.” He said: “If Christianity is merely one of many equally valid religions, then the sacrifices I made, including the loss of my family’s peace, were senseless.”

donald-trumpDonald Trump: Faith That’s Essentially Disconnected From Politics

This piece was co-written by Jennifer Labbadia, a Jesuit Volunteer who works at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Donald Trump’s religious convictions are as ever-changing as his political party affiliation, which have changed five times to date.

Though he grew up in the First Presbyterian Church in Queens and married his second wife at an Episcopal Church in 2005, he is currently a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, which is a Presbyterian denomination. He said, “I’m a Protestant, I’m a Presbyterian. And you know I’ve had a good relationship with the church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion.”

While he claims love for his religion, he isn’t too clear about how committed he really is to his faith. When asked how often he goes to church, he said: “Well, I go as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I’m a Sunday church person. I’ll go when I can.”

Despite his unclear commitment, he told “The Brody File” that he “will be the greatest representative of the Christians they’ve had in a long time.” But overall, Trump’s faith does not seem to be a strong part of his identity or motivate him politically. Though he is staunchly against same-sex marriage, his views on abortion haven’t always been consistent. In 2011, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that a friend’s personal experience considering abortion caused him to switch from pro-choice to pro-life. While he claims that his reasoning was personal rather than political, his changing stance on abortion lines up with his run for president and the support of the evangelical base he hopes to gain.

jeb-bushJeb Bush: Faith for the Faithful, Not the Politician

This piece was co-written by Jocelyn Macurdy Keatts, an associate at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. She is studying psychology at The Catholic University of America and lives in Washington, D.C.

Jeb Bush isn’t the first convert in his family, and like George Herbert Walker before him, his conversion was motivated by love. Like his father, who became a Presbyterian to honor his wife, Barbara, Jeb Bush came to Catholicism through his marriage to Columba. Twenty years later, the two have three children and a continued commitment to the Catholic faith.

Governor Bush’s political commitments appear less connected to his faith, however. He has maintained the right, especially recently, to not have his economic policy informed by “my bishops or my cardinals or my pope;” going on to say, “Religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.” These comments came in response to the pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si, a 184-page document that warns policymakers and citizens about the moral mandate to act on climate change. Instead of responding to the document itself, Bush has stubbornly maintained that faith serves the faithful; not the politician.

Bush’s response to Francis’ emphasis on social justice mirrors earlier responses to the Church’s stance on capital punishment, but varies from what has been otherwise strong messaging on faith-based politics. Bush was one of the few champions of Terry Schiavo’s parents’ long, unsuccessful campaign to keep their daughter alive. He has also been an ardent supporter of government funding for faith-based charities and once attempted to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a 13-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion.

In 2009, Bush referred to this sort of reasoning when he gave the public statement that “As a public leader, one’s faith should guide you … In the United States, many people think you need to keep your faith, put it in a security box, if you’re an elected official — put it in a safety deposit box until you finish your service as a public servant and then you can go get it back. I never felt that was appropriate.” In other words: Governor Bush claims to be spiritually guided in his politics, until he disagrees with his spiritual traditions’ political teachings. At which point, he returns firmly to the idea that faith is of personal importance and nothing more.

chris-christieChris Christie: Catholic Governor in a Catholic State

This piece was co-written by Jocelyn Macurdy Keatts, an associate at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. She is studying psychology at The Catholic University of America and lives in Washington, D.C.

Born Catholic and elected in predominantly Catholic New Jersey, Chris Christie has taken a historically confusing approach to political issues pertaining to faith. His previously pro-choice stance is one he’s reversed, though it seems that evolution was more political than spiritual.

Still, Christie has proved himself willing to be, at the very least, verbally supportive of things like green energy and has shied away from the social conservative’s vendetta against LGBTQ rights upheld by men like Sen. Rubio and Sen. Cruz. Liberals will be disappointed to learn that gun regulation reform, an issue where Christie leaned left in favor of his faith, is yet another position he’s reconsidered.

Broadly speaking, Christie is evolving from a moderate Republican Catholic into a more reactionary evangelical version of who he once was. Though disappointing to both liberal secularists and spiritualists alike, this relatively predictable evolution hasn’t thrown him totally into the arms of the GOP’s more extreme camp of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Governor Christie has taken some heat for deciding to send his children to Catholic schools, but he stands by the decision saying: “We’ve decided as parents that we believe a religious education should be part of our children’s everyday education.”